Mailbag: Michael Pineda

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Tucker asks: One of my Mariners friends suggested a possible trade that sounded crazy to me at first, but the more I thought about it the more it made sense: Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero. M’s need offense, Yanks need pitching.

Well, this isn’t really a question, so I guess it’s just a statement I will expand on. I think it is a very interesting swap, and certainly more realistic than the Felix Hernandez-for-random stuff proposals we see from time to time all the time. The framework makes a ton of sense, a team with pitching to spare and in need of offense gets six years of a young, high-end hitter while the team with offense to spare and in need of pitching gets five years of the young, high-end pitcher. It’s a match made in trade heaven.

Pineda, 23 in January, finished right behind Ivan Nova in the AL Rookie of the Year voting thanks to a 3.74 ERA and 3.42 FIP in 171 innings. Blame that on his 9-10 record and Seattle’s offense. He struck out 173 batters and walked just 54 unintentionally, good for 9.11 K/9 (24.9% of batters faced) and 2.89 BB/9 (7.9%). With a big frame (6-foot-5, 245 lbs.) and a high-octane fastball that averaged 94.2 mph this past season, it’s easy to see why Pineda should be considered among the game’s best young hurlers. He’s not perfect though.

For one, Pineda is an extreme fly ball pitcher, getting a ground ball just 36.3% of the time this past summer with uninspiring minor league grounder rates to match. He gave up 18 homers (0.95 HR/9) playing in spacious Safeco Field, a number that would almost certainly climb in Yankee Stadium. Secondly, he’s almost exclusively a two-pitch pitcher, using that big fastball roughly 65% of the time and his sharp slider roughly 32% of the time this summer. The other 3% is a flimsy little changeup and the reason why lefties hit him harder than righties, a pattern he also displayed in the minors. That isn’t to say Pineda isn’t a good pitcher, he certainly is, but he has some flaws that could be really exposed in the AL East and in Yankee Stadium.

There’s a very weird dynamic here because Montero was almost a Mariner in 2010, before Jack Zduriencik reneged on the Cliff Lee trade. I don’t know if there’s any “bad blood” between the two clubs because of that, but we know the Yankees weren’t happy with the way things went down and I have to think they hold a little bit of a grudge. I know I would. I’m sure they’re enjoying the fact that Montero out-fWAR’d Justin Smoak (0.6 to 0.5) this season, I know I am. I don’t think that “bad blood” would stand in the way of a potential Felix trade, but it might for lesser players, even someone like Pineda.

Objectively, I do think Montero-for-Pineda is a pretty fair trade. The one fewer year of team control is kinda mitigated by the fact that Pineda has shown he can handle a full season in the big leagues and be an above-average contributor. As good as Montero looked in September, we have no idea if he can produce 600 plate appearances at a time. On the other hand, the Yankees homer in my says no way to this trade; Pineda’s a two-pitch guy with fly ball problems and if the Yankees trade Montero, I’d like to see them trade him for someone more established.

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Montero talks Wilson Ramos, still plans to go home this winter

By now you’ve heard about the ordeal endured by Nationals’ catcher Wilson Ramos, who was kidnapped from his home (at gunpoint) in Venezuela before being rescued two days later. Jesus Montero grew up near Ramos and played with him as a kid, so the incident hit a little closer to home for him. “He is my friend,” said Montero to Roger Rubin. “I felt sad because I’ve known him for a long time. I was really worried when I saw the news. I was crying a little bit. It’s not an easy situation he was living. Thank God everything is fine and the police, they took care of it.”

Despite Ramos’ incident and several others in recent years, Montero is still planning to go home to Venezuela for about a month in December. “You’ve got to be careful where you go or where you are,” he said to Dan Martin. “Venezuela is not easy. You’ve got to know where you’re at and you’ll be good.” Montero hasn’t hired any kind of private security, he just plans to stay at home and with his family a lot, and be extra cautious when he goes out. After his trip home, he’s heading to Miami to train with Alex Rodriguez and Kevin Long.

Why the Yankees are unlikely to trade Montero

(AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

At his press conference yesterday, Brian Cashman made it sound as though Jesus Montero‘s presence on the 2012 roster is a certainty. “He could be a catcher, he could be a DH, he could be a bat off the bench, depending on how the roster looks,” he said. Of course, that leaves out one possibility. Cashman did speak to this possibility, though not to Montero specifically: “If anybody wants to approach me on anybody on this roster, if they don’t have a full no-trade clause, worst I can tell em is no.” Yes, there is a chance that Montero opens the 2012 season in a different uniform. But just how likely is that scenario?

When speaking of the Yankees off-season plans, Cashman uttered a familiar refrain. “Pitching, pitching, pitching. That will be the main trust of this stuff.” The Yankees have a number of able candidates for the rotation, but with close competition from the Rays and the Red Sox, and with the second Wild Card adding emphasis to winning the division, the Yankees would do well to add another high-end arm to complement CC Sabathia. A few options exist on the free agent market, namely C.J. Wilson and Yu Darvish, But there is a good chance the Yankees avoid another long-term deal and instead pursue the trade market.

Should the Yankees seek another team’s pitcher, Montero would prove a valuable trade chip — perhaps the Yankees’ most valuable, though left-hander Manny Banuelos will surely garner plenty of interest. In fact, just last week FanGraphs’ Dave Cameron, writing for ESPN Insider (sub. required), suggested that Cashman “use Jesus Montero as trade bait to get the front-line starter he really covets.” For the DH slot the Yankees could sign David Ortiz, turning the tables on the rival Red Sox. Yet there are two problems with the idea of trading Montero, and neither involves prospect love.

If the Yankees stick to their payroll level from the past few seasons, they could run into a snag when trading Montero. He’s ultra-cheap, and will remain so for the next three seasons. Before factoring in arbitration figures for Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, Russell Martin, Brett Gardner, and David Robertson the Yankees already have $174 million committed to the 2012 payroll. A rough estimate puts those totals a little under $20 million, so the Yankees are already near their previous $200 million level. Adding Ortiz would cost them at least $13 million in 2012, and a frontline starter could cost just as much, if not more. That’s quite a payroll bump.

The other reason involves the Yankees matching up with other teams. Montero is not a player the Yankees should dangle for any old pitcher. He has immense value, even if he’s stuck at DH (or 1B for another team), in his bat alone. He is not, in other words, a player the Yankees should trade for someone with one or two years remaining before free agency. The only scenario in which they should consider trading him involves a 25- to 28-year-old starter who has at least three more seasons of team control. He has to be an established starter, and his current team has to either 1) have enough of a pitching surplus that they can spare such a valuable arm, and 2) have a need for offense, particularly at first base or DH.

That doesn’t sound like a large group of teams and players to make a match.

After scouring each team’s roster and removing the players who absolutely won’t move anywhere — think Tim Lincecum, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, etc. — and teams that will surely contend in 2012, I’ve come up with only three names.

Mat Latos: This is the first and most attractive match. Latos is just 24 years old, and despite a rough start to the season — perhaps due to a big innings jump between 2009 and 2010 — he still finished with quality numbers. He strikes out plenty and has a decent walk rate. Even factoring in his HR/FB ratio, perhaps a product of Petco Park, he still grades out as a very good starter. At 24 he should only get better. The Padres might want more than just Montero, but the Yankees have a number of major league ready pitchers who could go along in the deal. For Latos it could be worthwhile. It doesn’t hurt that Cashman and new Padres GM Josh Byrnes hooked up on a relatively complex deal two years ago.

Jaime Garcia: This is unlikely, mostly because St. Louis recently inked him to a long-term extension. Garcia has just two years in the majors, but they’ve been two impressive years. He combines a decent strikeout rate with good control and ground ball tendencies, which makes for a quality starting pitcher. He ran into some problems later in 2010, likely because he was gassed — he threw 163.1 innings in 2010 after just 33.2, while rehabbing from Tommy John Surgery, in 2009. When he’s on he has stuff that dives and darts all over the strike zone, and he could absolutely be a No. 2 for the Yankees. Unfortunately, the Cardinals probably need him more than they need Montero, who wouldn’t fit with the Cardinals unless Albert Pujols signed elsewhere. Even then, it’s unlikely they’d part with a 25-year-old pitcher with a quality major league record.

Jordan Zimmermann: Chances are the Nationals envision a rotation that includes both Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg at its head, so they’re not likely to deal him. If they did make him available, the Yankees would have to listen. He showed impeccable control in 2011, one year removed from Tommy John Surgery, and he could be even better heading into 2012, his age-26 season. As with Garcia he combines a quality strikeout rate with a low walk rate, though he doesn’t get as many ground balls. Still, if the Nationals want to add Montero as their first baseman, the Yankees should settle for no less than Zimmermann.

As you can see, the options are not only slim, but unlikely. Of the three Latos has the greatest chance of moving east in a trade, and even that’s not so likely given the state of San Diego’s farm system. With the lack of matches, combined with the payroll issue, it’s highly unlikely that the Yankees could trade Montero for something they’d consider equal value, even if they were inclined to do so. There are no guarantees, of course, but I’d bet decent money that Montero opens the 2012 season wearing pinstripes with the interlocking NY on his chest.

Cashman Conference Call Notes: Burnett, Yu, Montero, Martin, Cervelli, Posada, More

(AP Photo/John Marshall Mantel)

Brian Cashman held a conference call with reporters this afternoon following the announcement of his new three-year contract, and he downplayed the significance of running a New York team. “It’s an easier situation for me because I haven’t really been anywhere else,” said the Yankees-lifer. “This is all I know.”

The biggest piece of news to come out of the conference call was Andrew Brackman’s release. You win some and you lose some a lot in the draft, and in Brackman’s case, the Yankees spent nearly $11M (according to Pete Caldera) to have him face 13 big league hitters. Ouch. Cashman also confirmed that the starting rotation will continue to be the team’s priority this offseason (duh), though they could still add a second left-handed reliever as well. Here’s a list of the free agent lefty relievers, in case you’re wondering who might fill Damaso Marte‘s DL spot next season. Here are the rest of the notes from the press conference…

Pitching

  • “We’re in a position now to take our time and explore and digest as well as pursue, but at our own pace, not in an emotional or reactive state,” said Cashman when asked about pursuing pitching. “It allows us to survey the landscape in a more conservative way. [Re-signing CC Sabathia] provides us a lot of security.” (Mark Feinsand, Chad Jennings & Marc Carig)
  • “He’s had to deal with adversity because of the inconsistent performance,”said Cashman when asked about A.J. Burnett. “He still was able to step up in October.” Cashman did laud Burnett’s ability to take the ball every five days and be accountable after his starts. Unless something unexpected happens, A.J will be in the rotation next season. (Kim Jones)
  • As for Yu Darvish, Cashman simply said: “I think like with anything else you learn over time. I think we’re more prepared today than we have been in the past.” I take that to mean the Yankees did more research on Darvish than they did with Kei Igawa, but that’s a quote open to (mis)interpretation. (Jon Lane)
  • Cashman confirmed that Rafael Soriano did not exercise his opt-out clause before last night’s deadline and will be with the team in 2012. (Anthony McCarron)

Offense

  • When asked about soon-to-be free agents like Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, Cashman said: “I don’t anticipate a bat being a need at all. Offense is not a problem with this club despite what happened in the Detroit series.” (Bryan Hoch & Feinsand)
  • Picking up Nick Swisher‘s option was “an easy call,” and the GM isn’t concerned too much about his right fielder’s third straight poor postseason showing. (Feinsand)
  • As for Jesus Montero‘s role with the team next season, Cashman said: “He could be a catcher, he could be a DH, he could be a bat off the bench, depending on how the roster looks.” (Jones)

Miscellaneous

  • As for the trade market, Cashman said he’s open “to anybody’s ideas” and is willing to discuss a deal involving Burnett or pretty much anyone else on the roster. “If anybody wants to approach me on anybody on this roster, if they don’t have a full no-trade clause, worst I can tell em is no.” Burnett has a partial no-trade clause, but as yesterday’s Derek Lowe trade showed, A.J. has minimal trade value. (Jones, Hoch & Dan Barbarisi)
  • Cashman said that a long-term deal for Russell Martin is possible, but he likes the flexibility that their upper level catching depth provides. “He’s under our control [as an arbitration-eligible player]. He was fantastic, he didn’t disappoint … I’m a big fan.” (Kim Jones)
  • Cashman on Jorge Posada‘s future: “That’s something we’ll have to discuss here on the short term … it’s not something I’m prepared to talk about today.” (Barbarisi)
  • “[Frankie Cervelli] is fine,” said Cashman. “He’s full-bore, ready to go as a catcher.” That’s good news. Frankie suffered his third concussion in four years in early-September. (Jones)
  • Cashman also confirmed that no one big league roster needs any kind of offseason surgery. (Jennings)

Jesus Montero and ZiPS

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

You might have seen this earlier, but Dan Szymborski posted his 2012 Yankees ZiPS Projections early Monday afternoon, the first team of the offseason. You can click the link and peruse all of the projections at your leisure, but I’m going to spend some time focusing on everyone’s favorite player, Jesus Montero. We’ll discuss the other guys at some point this offseason … eventually.

Following his big September debut (.328/.406/.590 and a .421 wOBA), the ZiPS system forecasts a .271/.333/.486 batting line with 37 doubles and 27 homers in 579 at-bats for Montero in 2012. At first glance, that might seen a bit disappointing because of the generally low AVG and the OBP, but it most definitely shouldn’t be. I said this on Twitter, but if Montero does that next season, he’ll probably win Rookie of the Year even if the majority of his at-bats come as a DH*. ZiPS isn’t being tricked by that big September either, the system called for almost exactly the same thing for 2011: a .276/.334/.503 line with 34 doubles and 28 homers in 539 at-bats.

* For comparison’s sake, Eric Hosmer hit .293/.334/.465 with 27 doubles and 19 homers in 523 at-bats this year, and he should finish either first or second in the voting.

I see Montero’s current situation as similar to Ivan Nova‘s after last season, at least to a certain extent. Nova wasn’t great in September 2010 but he showed enough to warrant a much longer looking 2011, which he got and in turn rewarded the Yankees. Montero made such a strong impression last month that the team has almost no choice but to play him full-time next season, it’s just a question of where. We’ve talked about the whole DH/backup catcher thing, but putting it into practice is much easier said than done. The ZiPS numbers don’t mean anything at the end of the day, but they’re a nice little reminder of just how much Montero can help the Yankees if given the chance.

Standard Disclaimer: Projections are not predictions. Dave Cameron put it best when he said “Projections are information about what we think we currently know, while predictions are speculation about things that we probably cannot know.”

Mailbag: Montero, Miller, Outfield, Yu, Hughes

I swear, one of these weeks I’m going to do a Jesus Montero-free mailbag. Maybe next week, just to see how it goes. Hopefully you folks don’t revolt or something. Anyway, we’ve got two Montero-related and three non-Montero-related questions this week. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the easiest (and preferred) way of sending questions in. Thanks.

(AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

Chris asks: I wrote to you guys earlier about Montero’s conditioning assignment. What is the pro of keeping him as a catcher? Just trade value? Look at all the catchers that break down because of the position. Mauer being a great example. I’d rather keep that bat in an area where he can remain healthy for a LONG time.

That’s the exact reason why the Nationals moved Bryce Harper to right field the instant they signed him two summers ago, and I can see that side of the argument. The pros of keeping Montero at catcher, not that he’s much to write home about back there, is that he’d simply be more valuable at that position, both to the Yankees or in a potential trade. Catchers that can rake are rare and therefore extremely valuable. The downside if obvious, he and his bat would need regular days off, the nagging injuries, etc.

I agree with moving him to a position that will allow him to play every day and theoretically remain productive, but what position is that? Okay, DH is obvious, but what else is there? Mark Teixeira still has five years left on his contract, so first base isn’t much of an option even though it’s the most logical spot. The outfield isn’t going to happen, at least not anytime soon. That’s not the easiest transition to make. Split duty at DH and behind the plate, maybe 100 games at DH and 40 behind the dish, seems like the most logical plan for Montero next year, then reevaluate after the season.

Evan asks: Assuming, and I know this is a huge assumption, that Albert Pujols signs anywhere besides with the Cardinals, do you think a Shelby Miller for Jesus Montero swap makes sense?

I don’t, actually. If the Cardinals lose Pujols, they’ll just stick Lance Berkman at first and play Allen Craig in right, or use Craig with a platoon partner, something like that. Obviously Montero wouldn’t catch for them with Yadier Molina around. Miller is arguably the best right-handed pitching prospect in the game, but he’s thrown just 86.2 IP above A-ball. That’s not enough of a sure thing to get back in a Montero trade in my book. I’d prefer a player that’s unquestionably ready to step in and play in the big leagues right now, kinda like Jesus.

Nick asks: Who are the prospects that can replace Nick Swisher after 2012?

There aren’t any really, and that’s part of the reason why the Yankees brought in guys like Justin Maxwell and Jordan Parraz last offseason. Their outfield depth at the upper levels of the minors is pretty thin. Melky Mesa has a long way to go before he can be considered a viable big league option, and both Abe Almonte and Mason Williams are years away from being options. Slade Heathcott needs to stay healthy for a full year before we can think him getting to Double-A, nevermind the bigs. If the Yankees let Swisher walk after 2012, they’d have to fill the position from outside the organization. Either that or take a big hit in production.

(Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)

Kevin asks: Will Yu Darvish generate a posting fee as high as Dice-K? Will a shallow free agent market balance out the recent dismal big Japanese pitcher free agent history i.e workload, adapting to a new culture? Who would you choose considering price between Darvish and Wilson? Is it possible to grab both and fill out the rotation with C.C., Wilson, Darvish, Nova and Hughes? Thanks.

I don’t think anyone knows what kind of posting fee Darvish will require, it’s all guesswork. It’s worth noting that although the Red Sox won the right to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka with that $51.1M bid, the second highest bid was $39-40M by the Mets. Boston really blew everyone out of the water for Dice-K. Darvish is supposedly better than Dice-K, but baseball salaries have come down a bit in recent years, and I do think Matsuzaka will scare some teams into lowering their bid. It only takes one team to go overboard though, and I’m willing to bet it takes at least $40M or so land him.

As for Darvish vs. C.J. Wilson, I’d rather go with Darvish. Wilson is the safer bet, sure, but Darvish offers more upside (and more risk) and is considerably younger. There’s also the benefit of keeping the draft pick and saving money because the posting fee is not counted towards the luxury tax. Wilson is the safe move and is probably the better bet in 2012 and 2013, but over the next five or six years, Darvish is the guy I want. And no, I don’t think the Yankees, or any team for that matter, will land both guys this winter.

Anthony asks: I was wondering if you can see the Yankees trading Phil Hughes this offseason. He’s been with the team for a while now (since ’07, no?) and we’ve only seen him perform to his expectations just twice: as a lights out reliever in ’09 and as a dominant starter in the first half of the ’10 season. What would someone like Hughes get the Yankees in a trade?

Hughes’ value is at an all-time low right now, so I can’t imagine they’d get much in return. He’s not that young anymore, nor is he cheap and under team control for another half-decade. He’ll make something like $3-4M in 2012, his second time through arbitration, then become a free agent after the 2013 season. I could definitely see the Yankees trading him, but I doubt they’d get anything special in return. Maybe another kid like Hughes, struggling to take the next step at the big league level. The Yankees aren’t exactly in a position to give away potential starters though, so I’m not sure I’d be okay with dealing him for another reclamation project just because.

Jesus Montero will not play winter ball

Via Chad Jennings, the Yankees have decided to have Jesus Montero skip winter ball this year. Montero is on the roster of the Navegantes del Magallanes in his native Venezuela, but it’s just a placeholder spot. The plan is to put him on a strength and conditioning program, but nothing more.

In other winter ball news, the Yankees will allow Eduardo Nunez to play this offseason, presumably back home in the Dominican Republic. They would like him to get reps in the outfield, but because he has so little service time, the Yankees are unable to control how he’s used. It’s up to his winter ball team. Hector Noesi will be starting in the winter ball, and Brian Cashman confirmed to Jennings that the right-hander will be held to a strict pitch count.